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The Story Behind La Catrina and the Day of the Dead

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La Catrina costume for Day of the Dead in Mexico
Wikimedia Commons

While the Day of the Dead celebrations are still fresh in our minds, we would like to tell you the story behind La Catrina and the Day of the Dead.

Every time we celebrate El Día de Muertos in Mexico is a new opportunity to enjoy life to the fullest by putting on a costume and going to the Malecón, if you are lucky to spend the Day of the Dead in Puerto Vallarta, and watch everybody else in a costume.

Or you can go to a costume party and have a good time. Well, if you did go to a costume party, did you notice one particular costume that is used frequently for this occasion? We are talking about La Catrina.

La Catrina has become a symbol of Mexico and its traditions, especially for honoring and celebrating our faithful departed. Many people wear this skeleton- looking costume with make-up and a hat, and even a pashmina. It’s a great costume, whether you are celebrating Halloween or Día de Muertos.

If you don´t know La Catrina or haven´t seen anybody dressed up like her, allow us to tell you her story.

“Death is democratic, because in the end, you know, brunette, rich or poor, all people end up being skeleton,” said José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913).

José Guadalupe Posada, better known as the artist of the people, was a famous Mexican cartoonist for newspapers. He was the first one to criticize society and politicians, exposing all the situations of inequality and injustice at that time. José Guadalupe Posada also used this image to illustrate the short stories he wrote, like stories about crime, referring to politicians and important people around that time. For his stories, he used the name “Calavera Garbancera.”

This Calaveras Garbanceras represented the people, but not all the people, exactly. The stories just represented those individuals who had native blood running through their veins, but who pretended to be European, up to the point that they denied their own culture. Jose Guadalupe Posada couldn´t stand that. That´s why he represented these people with a skeleton with nothing but a hat, which meant they were trying to be someone they were not.

Later on, Mexico’s famous muralist, Diego Rivera, used José Guadalupe Posada’s work.

Diego Rivera took the image of the Calavera Garbancera and improved her looks. He added elegant clothes, fine bearing and some items associated with high society. After that, Diego Rivera named her Catrina. You can see the first Catrina he ever painted in his mural “Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central,” or “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central”

Years passed and the image of La Catrina has evolved from the canvas to real life when you see Mexicans or expats get dressed like an elegant skeleton for the Day of the Dead or Halloween celebrations.

Even though La Catrina´s meaning was more about political criticism in her beginning, she has now become an essential icon to celebrate “El Día de Muertos” representing Mexico´s culture and our particular way to honor all the people that are no longer with us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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